The time of year when Massachusetts legislators enjoy an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel is again upon us. Once again a lobbying group, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), is planning the itinerary.
According to JCRC executive director Jeremy Burton, over the past five years he has personally accompanied almost a third of the entire Massachusetts legislature on trips to Israel and has been able to “watch firsthand as our participants fall in love with the leaders and activists who’ve inspired and energized me for years.”
Soon after they return, the 12 state legislators participating in the current JCRC junket may vote on anti-BDS legislation the JCRC has said it intends to introduce in the new legislative section, beginning in January.
The stakes this time are particularly high, given the fact that two previous efforts to enlist the Massachusetts legislature in the anti-BDS brigade were de-railed by spirited activism spearheaded by the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine, JVP- Boston and Massachusetts Peace Action: first in March of this year and then again in July.
This legislative trip may seem like an obvious conflict of interest, but the state Ethics Commission does not see it that way. It rejected the ethics complaint filed by Massachusetts Peace Action after JCRC took a quarter of the state Senate to Israel last year following a Senate vote on a pro-Israel resolution.
It is not clear if the touring legislators will cross paths with the Massachusetts governor, Charles Baker, who leaves for Israel on December 9 on his first international trade mission.
He will be accompanied by scores of government officials and private sector businessmen on a journey reportedly subsidized by the New England-Israel Business Council with the support of Combined Jewish Philanthropies. Last month Combined Jewish Philanthropies paid $25,000 for five Baker aides to visit Israel to prepare for the governor’s trip.
Governor Baker has already paid his ‘anti-BDS’ dues: he is a signatory of the American Jewish Committee-sponsored Governors’ Letter that characterizes BDS as a “virulent movement” seeking to “demonize” Israel.
And will the Massachusetts governor and legislators bump into the Boston police commissioner and law enforcement agents who are on yet another junket, this one sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)?
The ADL – which in 1993 was revealed to have been conducting a massive spying operation on Arab Americans and other supporters of Palestinian rights and activists opposing South African Apartheid – now offers annual trips to Israel for law enforcement to hone their ‘counterterrorism’ skills.
On December 5, Commissioner William Evans left on their latest eight-day “security trip.” The Boston Herald reported that Evans and other trip participants will “learn first hand how counterterrorism is handled there.”
“We’ll hopefully learn something and take it back here,” Evans told The Herald.
This is an ominous prospect.
Given the calamitous rate at which police forces are militarizing in the US and the epidemic of police killings, especially of Black men, the last thing US police forces need is exposure to the IDF’s stunningly lax ‘shoot to kill’ regulations.
As for Boston, its police force is already armed with military assault rifles and invasive spy gear like the cell phone tracking ‘sting rays.’ It already maintains a regional intelligence ‘fusion center’ in which are stored ‘suspicious activity reports’ on dissenters engaged in First Amendment activity and people of Middle Eastern or Muslim appearance. It is currently planning to spend $1.4 million on a software tool which will enable it to do complex social media surveillance.
The last thing Boston needs is training in Israeli-style racial profiling and surveillance, and in the violent suppression of nonviolent popular resistance such as that taking place on a weekly basis in the West Bank village of Bil’in. And the last thing Massachusetts needs is the ‘Israel, right or wrong’ mentality and casual corruption that these junkets promote.